It’s lambing season again.
I was very fortunate as a vet student to learn my lambing from a patient Cotswold farmer.
The most heavily pregnant ewes were quietly brought into an enormous open-sided barn a week or so before their due dates. All interactions, including moving them are taken very quietly, to avoid startling them into giving birth prematurely.
It was wonderful to watch them explore the elbow deep fresh straw that had been put down for them, and where the food and water sources were. Although they had to move sedately, these mothers-to-be still had some fun re-ordering things just the way they wanted them.
And then it was a waiting game.
I was part of a team taking turns to quietly scan the barn, looking over perhaps two hundred contented ewes. It felt like about every ten minutes one would be showing the tell-tale signs of labour. I was quick to observe these, and learn.
The majority needed no assistance. I had the opportunity to wonder and admire at the ease with which twins or triplets would slide into the world. The whole process often taking less than an hour or so.
When it did seem there was a problem, the shepherd or his wife usually resolved it, and I noticed that the words ‘call the vet’ were never uttered.
Sometimes we would arrive, and a new mum would already be offering a first meal to a soft woollen bundle on shaky legs. It really was a magical time.
Our role then was to gently separate these newly enlarged families away from the flock. The shepherd preferred them to be in individual quarters for a few days, and had another barn set up with lots of small pens. My job was to carefully lift the lambs, and carry them to their new quarters. The mother would inevitably follow behind as if on a lead, no sheep dog required!
It was an enchanting period for me, although tiring to get up in the night to look out for anyone in trouble. Certainly an experience I shall never forget.